“You cannot go back to where you have never been” I heard that expression recently and it set off a process in my convoluted mind. I had been reflecting on my comments about Martin Luther King that I wrote last year.
The “Civil Rights” movement that we of a certain age remember is not part of the experience of much of today’s population. Even our 40-year-old children cannot appreciate the closing of an enormous breach in the lack of fairness experienced by our fellow citizens. On the other hand they are much better equipped to move forward starting from a new base. What all of us may not appreciate is that the breach was never entirely closed. It is important that we recognize that the fortification of the bulwark against bigotry must be constantly nourished.
When thinking about a river levee we cannot accept a small breach, because left alone it will become infinitely worse. The same holds true when defending the rights of the People. It’s not just people of minority groups whose rights need to be defended, it is all of us. We can best protect the rights of minorities by standing up for the rights that most of us thought were sacrosanct.
The voices of the oppressed are not always the best spokespersons for themselves because their voices are often lost in the din. Therefore it is incumbent on all of us to speak out against injustice, and be in favor of even-handed justice. If we fail to pick up the cudgel and beat back the assault on our civil liberties, we will have not only have failed to usher in the dream of Reverend King, but we will have lost the liberties that we believed we had, and profess to love.
Many years ago I dated a young concert pianist from Germany. The family was living in Queens New York. While waiting for my date to get ready her mother came into the room and engaged me in conversation. They were a wealthy German family that produced leather coats, mostly for the German army. We spoke about Germany and the tragedy of the Nazi regime. She told me that they would listen to Adolph Hitler on the radio and considered him a buffoon.
My friend’s grandfather, the patriarch of the family, ran the factories. His mother was Jewish, but he was brought up as a Christian. The family never considered themselves Jews. One day grandpa was arrested on the basis of him being a Jew. The family had considerable wealth, some of it was in cash and other portable assets. They were able to rescue him and bribe their way out of Germany. In my youthful directness I asked, “Why, as formidable and powerful family, did you not speak out against the oppression? Her eyes drifted toward the floor and in a barely audible voice admitted they should have.
We are all in the same boat. Your liberties and freedoms are my liberties and freedoms. Regardless of your ethnic or racial identification we are inseparable. We put our own liberties on the line when we ignore the rights of others. The greatest tribute we can pay to Dr. King at this juncture is to protect the rule of law for all of us.